CIO50 2018 #21: Simon Noonan, Sportsbet
In 2016, Simon Noonan had a problem. Data from a Sportsbet's annual employee survey revealed that his technology team’s engagement was low, coupled with some increasing voluntary attrition.
“Technology delivered some great outcomes that year, our customers loved our products and Sportsbet was successful so they were not the results I was expecting,” Noonan says.
To further understand the survey data, Noonan met with his technology teams to gain a better understanding of what team members were feeling about the experience working for the organisation.
Team members said they needed to understand what they would be working on next, what was the latest innovation; and they wanted to grow their careers and learn. They were also looking for senior leaders to communicate, provide clarity and purpose; and they were concerned that Sportsbet was losing great talent.
“I appreciated that a strong culture and purpose-led approach to leadership is needed to inspire and motivate teams. In the technology department, 75 per cent of our workforce are millennials and I continue to recruit new talent into technology, this style of leadership becomes important,” says Noonan.
Noonan says he had to change his leadership approach by acknowledging the company’s unbridled ambition, the speed by which decisions needed to be made, and the changing workforce and competition for talent.
As a result of that feedback, he developed Sportsbet’s Technology 2020 Strategy, which created a vision and direction for team members that has fostered innovation and learning.
The new strategy was also done in anticipation of a new ‘point in consumption’ tax levied by each Australian state. This meant that more than 50 per cent of Sportsbet’s revenue is now paid in taxes.
In 2018, Noonan’s team delivered on phase one of the strategy to help the organisation compete more efficiently and at speed in this high tax environment.
“Sportsbet now has the capability and scale to provide our 1.2 million active customers a personalised experience, which provides them with the right content, at the right time and in the right way. This is very different to our “one-size-fits-all” model.
Noonan has also led the development of the company’s customer experience platform over 12 months, which he says provides customers with the fastest customer experience in the market.
“Our mobile platform is now 25 per cent faster than any competitor on our top 5 customer journeys,” he claims.
The platform was created using real customer feedback during the ‘pints and punters’ research group conducted monthly, as well as onsite demonstrations, surveys, beta releases and
Other components that support this program include: migrating 50 per cent of its infrastructure to the cloud, which reduces time to market, upskills tech teams and will save the organisation more than $10 million over the next three years.
Increased automation across areas of the delivery lifecycle and reduced handoffs and increased team productivity by 20 per cent. The company is also using a machine learning capability that allows its data scientist to deploy models to personalise the customer experience.
Innovation crucial to the wagering sector
Technology innovation is vital in the gambling sector, particularly at Sportsbet where these solutions enable the company to better protect customers and their data; take an ‘industry-leader view’ on responsible gambling; or offer a new, innovative product that adds excitement to its customers’ lives, says Noonan.
“In a dynamic competitor landscape, wagering customers have increasing choice, and technology-led innovation is key to Sportsbet offering a brilliant customer experience with new and engaging product choices, he says.
In fact, he says innovation is critical to all industries, not just wagering.
“I believe companies who aren’t pushing the boundary or innovating are ripe for disruption, and are frankly going backwards in businesses where customers have increasing choice. Innovation doesn’t have to be digital/technology or a new product line. It can be through people, systems and processes.”
The solutions delivered by Sportsbet’s tech team have helped the company scale to 3 million customers (1.2 million active) and more than $6 billion in turnover while decreasing platform outages by 50 per cent and maintaining technology cost to revenue of less than 10 per cent.
“The technology team’s performance provided Sportsbet enormous value in 2017 because we not only made sure the customer experience was flawless but that the technology is equipped to handle unprecedented demand in peak periods,” he says.
For example, the organisation’s ‘bets-per-second’ (26,000 per minute) in the 2017 Melbourne Cup peaked at 852, up 70 per cent year-on-year.
“Sportsbet’s IBM database, which is the biggest in Australia, processed more than 360 million transactions in 24 hours during Melbourne Cup day, resulting in 7 trillion records being updated,” he says.
A more agile operation
Over the past few years, Noonan has also introduced 30 agile feature teams the organisation. These teams are all cross-functional, made up of seven to 10 people with various competencies that are required to deliver any given initiative.
“The teams have created their own identities and have named themselves after fictional and non-fictional cities – from Stockholm to Port Royal and Springfield. It lets them create a cohesive team, with common goals and bonds, and also allows us to give them complex problems to solve, which solve together.
These teams are supplemented by individuals from a pool of travellers who move from team to team when required during sprints.
“Each month, we prioritise these ‘feature teams’ and distribute their capacity based on company needs and demands. This nimble and flexible approach allows the organisation to rapidly respond to customer needs,” he says.
Finally, one of the facets of the Technology 2020 strategy is to create exciting careers, says Noonan.
“I have a personal aspiration that people will look back on their time at Sportsbet and think, through exciting work, personal development and having some fun, ‘that was the highlight of my career.’
“I am passionate about creating a learning culture and developing people. We have adopted a widely-known development framework called 70/20/10 with a key focus on our team members experiencing and experimenting with new technology on the job and in real-time – supported with coaching, mentoring and formal training.”